Political Science

 

We were in the midst of text book adoption some years ago when an unexpected snag brought the process to a halt. 

The Social Studies Departments across our district were asked to pilot an array of textbooks for the Fall of 1994. Publishers had generously provided sample texts, and we spent hours previewing different titles, passing our preferences to our District Social Studies Coordinator.

Government teachers decided, unanimously, that they would replace their current text with the newer edition of the book they had used for some years. To a person, instructors agreed to readopt Magruders American Government; a trusty standard, and the hands-down favorite of most 12th grade teachers across the country. Our staff had ready-made units, lessons, speakers, ancillary materials,, film clips, debate resolutions, etc . . . only requiring the newer book with updated factual information. And their decision appeared to be resolved.

But in the last phase, presentation for final adoption, the Board of Trustees suddenly slammed on the brakes, visibly unhappy with the choice.

 Magruders, as a tradition, had placed a photo of the current first lady inside the first page of their textbook. The old copies may have still been of Mamie Eisenhower by the tattered condition of the old copies. But no longer. The inside photo of this new edition featured First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and board members, reactionaries to the core, lost their minds.

I taught AP American History at that same time, and thought nothing of reordering Thomas Bailey’s American Pageant, another classic. We had used this text for some time, but needed an updated edition, too. However, in light of the fiasco over Magruders, I too, found my text in the crosshairs.

Wearing an understanding, sympathetic expression the district coordinator said I had to prepare a defense of my book, too. And it wasn’t that I minded touting the virtues of the book, I liked Pageant a lot, but I did mind the time lost in preparing my classroom work. Plus, it was so annoying that we all had to jump for the Board because Mrs. Clinton had the audacity to be the new First Lady.

I supposed, fair was fair, if one book was attacked for fallacious reasons, attack the rest-a convenient diversion to camouflage the real aim of thought suppression.

The central thrust is that Trump era of intolerance had been in the making for quite some years. The irrational politics of 2016 was clearly hardening across the nation years earlier. From School Boards, to City Halls, to library districts, restriction of free thought was under assault. 

Nothing pisses off the far right more than a rational challenge from open-minded, articulate, and educated thinkers.

Gail Chumbley is a retired history educator, and author of the two-part memoir River of January, and River of January: Figure Eight.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

 

Doesn’t Change Anything

Washington's-Farewell-to-his-Officers

There are folks out there in America who object to the term bellicose when describing Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy. The Texas State School Board a few years ago objected to the term “capitalism,” deeming it too loaded with negative meaning. Okay, play with terminology, putty up and pretty up the image of the past on state standards and guides, because it really makes no difference in the classroom.

Recently the College Board acquiesced to political pressure on AP US History curriculum objectives. I can understand the thinking behind this move by those who design and correct the yearly three hour exam. Those designers simply don’t need the controversy, nor do they need states to eliminate AP US from American classrooms. But the compromise actually actuates few modifications in day to day lessons, speedily delivered by harried AP teachers. Reality dictates the content of the course, and limited by time and the massive content, most are lucky to reach bellicose Ronald Reagan before the annual May exam.

The painting above depicts General Washington’s Farewell to his Officers at Fraunces Tavern in New York. The work was the creation of artist Alonzo Chappel, and commemorates a party hosted by the victorious, but solemn Washington. This same picture, over a century later, was viewed by teetotalers with dismay. Prohibitionists, concerned by the tavern setting, especially with the wine carafe and goblet resting the table simply scrubbed the image out. Easy enough. Adjust the past to fit today’s present.

D7XFTA Washington taking command of the Army and Washington's farewell to his officers - two scenes from George Washington's Military life

D7XFTA Washington taking command of the Army and Washington’s farewell to his officers – two scenes from George Washington’s Military life

Yet, resurfacing the past, doesn’t actually change anything. Alcohol played a huge role in Colonial America. It just did. In fact, with reference to the 1980’s, all an instructor has to do is produce a couple of line graphs of military spending from 1981 to 1989. Any kid can deduce the trend in military expenditures. Read a couple of speeches in class–Ike’s Farewell Address to the country for example, and students certainly understand the deafness of the Reagan Administration to General Eisenhower’s cautionary words on the perils of the military-industrial complex.

And all those critics who scorn the notion of teaching higher level thinking haven’t spent a moment working with high school students. You can’t fool these young people, they are a lot smarter than you think. Any examination at primary materials, aside from textbooks, or any other ancillary stuff reveals a truth sans any political spin.

So go ahead and bleach the course objectives. Go ahead and whitewash topics such as the genocide of Native peoples, or the insider manipulation that has torpedoed the stock market over and over. It doesn’t matter really. I always told my students that the greatest thing about American History is that we examine it, warts and all, with eyes bravely open. That’s is the source and the strength of our nation’s greatness.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the memoir, River of January